Armed with determination Missing limb hasn’t slowed local swimmer

By on July 2, 2013


TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor

, Staff Writer

With the use of a specially-designed prosthetic, eight-year-old Ella Rennix is one of the top swimmers in her age group for the Ephrata Tidal Waves team. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

In a lot of ways, Ella Rennix is your typical eight-year-old girl.

She enjoys art, watching TV, and playing baseball with her brother, among other things.

What sets her apart, though, is what she does in the pool as a member of the Ephrata Tidal Waves’ swim team.

Already this season, she has qualified for the league championships in one stroke (back), and is close to making it in another (freestyle). She’s also part of Ephrata’s top freestyle relay for eight-and-under girls.

That’s quite an accomplishment for any young swimmer, but especially someone who is doing it with just one arm.

The daughter of Jim and Becky Rennix, the soon-to-be third grader at Highland Elementary was missing part of her right arm (just below the elbow) when she was born.

And while there certainly have been challenges and obstacles most people don’t have to deal with, it hasn’t defined her and definitely hasn’t slowed her down.

"When she was born we were like, ‘Oh, she’s not going to be able to do anything,’" Ella’s mother Becky said recently. "But you know what, she has. She’s really active and is a very determined little girl."

In addition to swimming, Ella also does gymnastics and Martial Arts, which includes Kung Fu and kick boxing.

A few years ago, in an effort to strengthen the muscles in and around the arm, her parents suggested Ella join the swim team. She struggled initially but really took off after being fitted for a special prosthetic that was designed for her at Shriner’s Hospital For Children in Philadelphia.

"She could barely make it across the pool, but the coaches were nice enough to let her on (the team) any way," Becky explained. "She doggy paddled her way through the first winter season, but with the help of the prosthetic she just really started to come along. She doesn’t really use a prosthetic, a functional one, in every day life. She uses one for swimming, and she uses one for gymnastics. But for every day tasks she just doesn’t really need it that much because she was fortunate enough to have an elbow when she was born. That makes a big difference."

While the prosthetic, which gets replaced once a year due to growth, has helped her in the pool, there are a few limitations for the bouncy eight-year old.

"The only thing we can’t quite master are the monkey bars," Becky said before Ella added, "and jump roping."

Other than that, she’s pretty much figured everything else out.

"She’s very active, but she kind of has to be," Becky said. "We don’t want to let her just sit on the sidelines and watch all the other kids do everything. She’s just going to get in there and do it. Sometimes we have to figure out other ways around it but where there is a will, there is definitely a way for her…she’ll figure out a way. She’s always up for that challenge. She won’t let anyone tell her she can’t do something. She’s very determined."

Especially in the pool, where she has particularly made strides this year in her third season with the team.

"Her times are just dropping," Tidal Waves Coach Ross Spangler said. "This is only my second year coaching in the summer, so I wasn’t with Ella her first season. But even from last season when I coached her she has really come around."

While backstroke is her best event, she also does freestyle and occasionally butterfly.

But her favorite is still backstroke.

"I like it because I’m really fast at it," Ella said. "I like how you stay on your back and you don’t have to put your face in the water and hold your breath."

She currently is in the top two on the team for her age group in backstroke, according to Spangler, and is one of the top four in freestyle.

"Her backstroke is definitely her best event," Spangler said. "To make league championships you have to make a certain cut. And she was about a full second under the cut for backstroke. Her freestyle is about a half second from the league cut, so she’s not really that far off from qualifying in that as well."

She definitely has the work-ethic and drive to continue to improve.

"What I like most about swimming is I can get better at it," she said. "The more I practice, the better I get."

According to Becky, Ella’s success wouldn’t have been possible if not for the support and encouragement of her coaches.

"The Tidal Waves coaches have been so supportive of Ella and have never treated her any differently," she said. "We are so grateful to them for that as well as the team for their incredible support."

Outside of swimming, Ella looks forward every summer to attending a special camp called, "Camp No Limits," located in Maine and Maryland. The camp is for families with children who have "some kind of limb loss or deficiency."

"The whole family goes and the kids get to learn from each other," Becky explained. "Basically, the kids get to hang out and get to be themselves. Nobody else is staring at them. For her, it sometimes can be hard coming to the pool, especially when kids haven’t seen her. It’s a little bit of an issue but we haven’t had too many problems with that. But at the camp, they do physical and occupational therapy, a lot of games, and the parents have a support group we can go to and kind of bounce stories off each other. She gets to learn a lot and we get to learn a lot about what is possible out there."

A local group has even stepped up to support Camp No Limits.

The Denver/Ephrata Rotary Club sponsors the Taste of Lancaster County event at Stoudt’s August 17. Many local restaurants, breweries and bars come out and donate all of their food and drinks, which is used as a big fund-raiser for Camp No Limits in Maryland.

As for what Ella has accomplished in the sport of swimming so far, Becky said she’s like any other proud parent.

"It’s just awesome," she said. "We are really, really proud of her. My husband and I both swam growing up so we knew it was real important for her to be able to swim, just for safety reasons, and we knew it was a fun sport. It’s amazing to see how far she’s come since the doggy-paddling. It’s remarkable, quite honestly. More importantly, she’s actually having fun this summer. I don’t know if that is because she’s doing better, or just because it’s enjoyable to her. She’s made a lot of friends on swim team, both in her age group and all the bigger kids. We really are proud of her."

Spangler said he just enjoys having Ella on the team.

"She is really just a joy to be around," he said. "I’ve never heard her say she can’t do something. She is right there in with everybody and she sticks with them…she doesn’t fall behind at practice. And I think she is an inspiration to all of the other swimmers on the team."

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